Becoming an Expat Tai Tai

“Will you be a tai tai?!”

That was the most frequently asked question I got after announcing my family’s relocation to Hong Kong. It turned out that I had no say in the matter as the label was automatically bestowed on me upon arrival. If I had the means to be a housewife, it was assumed that my husband made enough to qualify me.

Yay?


Life of a Tai Tai

Becoming a tai tai, as a wealthy housewife is known in Asia, is a legitimate life goal for many. Whether envied, disdained, ridiculed, or pitied, these women are societal staples. Some are bred because they come from money while others have to climb their way into the club. Even if opportunities in higher education and professional advancement for women are changing that mindset, some only see these as credentials to check-off on their resume. Top prized trophy wives are socially, culturally, and intellectually adept in navigating high society.

There is not a definitive guide to tai tai-ing, but it seems that a woman at minimal must marry into a family with enough financial mean so that she does not need to work. While housewives and stay-at-home-moms are common in the U.S., this prerequisite is actually not attainable for many in Hong Kong given the city’s high cost of living and large income disparity. The median monthly income for an employed person is approximately HK$18,000, but with the median cost for public rental housing at HK$17,800, most families need dual earners to put a roof over their heads.

Source: Quarterly Report on General Household Survey (Census and Statistics Department Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)
Source: The Cities With The Highest Cost Of Living (Forbes)

There are different tiers of tai tai-hood. Various factors move a woman up and down the ranks, such as the affluence of her neighborhood, amount of leisure in her day, quality and quantity of her social connections, extravagance of her consumption, etc. At the top echelon are the daughters of Asia’s elites — tai tais of the 0.1% (think Crazy Rich Asians) sleep in past 9:00 AM, employ multiple maids, never do housework, go on international shopping sprees, indulge in regular spa treatments, dress in the latest designer fashion, etc.

Expat wives are an unique breed of tai tais who rarely call themselves as such. Simply self-identifying as an expat already oozes a certain status. Composed of outsiders, the ones I know are mostly trailing spouses of executives, lawyers, pilots, bankers, or consultants. Although they do not boast lineage from Asia’s political nobility or flash F.U. money like China’s nouveau riche, expats flaunt their elitist Western upbringing, education, and values like some kind of non-monetary currency — from enlisting their children in private international schools, to assuming that everyone understands English, to decrying the locals’ treatment of their maids, to being morally outraged by the use of plastic straws and bags. Some of these initiatives are well-intentioned, but also patriarchal. Mostly found in pockets of expat neighborhoods with coffee houses, yoga studios, and imported organic food, expats do not adapt to local culture; they insist that locals cater to their bougie ways. (I am Exhibit A.)


To Tai Tai or Not Tai Tai?

I may be in the minority, but I absolutely hated being called a tai tai. Having grown up in Boston and worked in New York City, I came of age in the Sheryl Sandberg era. No one in my social circle aspired to be housewives, even after having children. Giving up my career, therefore, felt like a betrayal when I moved to Hong Kong; I did not want to be a stereotypical tai tai on top of that.

I held out, doing menial chores myself for a year, before I finally brought in a full-time helper — a maid, cook, nanny, and personal assistant rolled into one. The benefits are life changing: no more cooking, washing dishes, folding laundry, or doing chores…period. After messy activities with the Dumpling, our workstation would be miraculously cleaned by the time we washed our hands. Tasks as simple as refilling the water pitcher, making a grocery list, or changing hand towels are no longer on my mental to-do list. Impromptu social outings are now possible because I have a babysitter on-call six days a week.

I naturally gravitated towards meeting other expat moms. Through play dates, community outings, school events, and coffee meetings, I learned the ins and outs of daily life, built a support network for my family, and made amazing new friends along the way.


First World Problems

Even as I reap the benefits of living a life of relative comfort, the transition was not easy. Loneliness was overwhelming at first because jigg regularly works 14+ hours a day and is sometimes away on business trips. Walking away from my career was a blow to my ego. In a culture where being a housewife is a status symbol, there is still a sense of sadness, even shame, when I tell people that I am a one. My days can be monotonous and mindless if I do not push myself to remain productive since I no longer have engaging projects, demanding deadlines, or ambitious colleagues to challenge me at work. Every year that I am unemployed, I become less employable; I may even be obsolete one day. I am entirely dependent on my husband’s income, so I face huge financial risks if we were to ever separate.


The truth, however, is that the perks are hard to give up. Between returning to the grueling grind of New York City or living a life of leisure in Hong Kong, there is no competition. I may despise the title, but being a tai tai, semantics aside, is amazing.

Why I Dislike Guardian-Accompanied Playgroups

When we first moved to Hong Kong, it was a rude-awakening to discover that daycares are not popular. Many working parents have grandparents or live-in nannies (they’re extremely affordable in Asia) for childcare, so guardian-accompanied playgroups are more prevalent for non-school aged children. They were a regressive step for the Dumpling because she has attended a drop-off since she was six months old back in the U.S. As we waited for a spot to open at an unaccompanied program, however, accompanied playgroups were our only immediate options at the time.

The one we joined was typical. For two hours, one to three days a week, parents or caregivers bond with their toddlers through engaging, educational activities, such as circle time, singing, dancing, arts and crafts, and sensory trays, led by an experienced teacher. The children will have opportunities to develop social skills, confidence, and independence—soft skills needed for an easier transition into drop-off classes.  

Sounds promising, right?

I hated the fact that I needed to be there—not because I did not want to spend time with my daughter, but because I did not want to be her security blanket. This particular program allowed kids to join and unjoin any time, so the lack of continuity and familiarity made friendships difficult to form. The Dumpling naturally gravitated toward me instead of exploring on her own because I was the easier option.

The teacher functioned more as an activity prompter than a leader—she would not intervene when a child was disruptive, acted inappropriately, or did not participate. Adults were solely responsible for their children, which was problematic as each toddler saw his guardian as the main authority figure instead of the teacher.

With a dozen adult-child pairs in class, it seemed like everyone operated under different “playground rules”. When the Dumpling snatched a toy from another child during one session, that child’s nanny lunged and aggressively snatched it back from the Dumpling before I could react. I was shocked that a grown-up behaved this way. I guessed she believed in “an eye for an eye”.

The differences in everyone’s parental values and styles were apparent. During an arts and crafts activity, the teacher presented a cherry blossom painting created by dotting pink paint on a tree silhouette—an example of what the class was to replicate. I did a demo for the Dumpling on our sheet. She dotted maybe three or four flowers before she smeared the paint around with her hands instead. I shrugged and looked around to see what other pairs were doing. Most adults were taking their kids’ fingers and dotting for them; the rest were completing most (if not all) of the activity on behalf of the children, who either lost interest or did not want to touch paint.

When the paintings were placed on the table to dry, I noticed that all of them fell within the spectrum of the teacher’s sample…except for the Dumpling’s. The others depicted delicate, tranquil blossoms blooming, while my kid’s tree looked like a typhoon bulldozed its way through.

The Dumpling was so proud of her work, and I was proud of her. I was proud that her piece was different…that she was different. She was not afraid to explore, completed the painting on her own, and did not mind getting dirty along the way.

I often reflect back on this moment. In an age where “over-parenting” is normal, I was glad that I did not interfere. But did I overvalue her independence and creativity? Under different circumstances, these traits could be viewed as insubordination or arrogance.

Painting a cherry blossom was trivial in the greater scheme of things, but what if it metaphorically represented a different activity (say baking or playing a team sport), could the Dumpling’s “tree” be viewed as a failure?
Was the process that much more important than the result? Should I have encouraged her harder to follow instructions? Or guided her fingers (like what some adults did) instead of letting her go rogue? If she had refused to paint at all, would it have been acceptable to return home with nothing? If the stakes were higher, would I have completed the project for her (like what a few others did)?

The other adult probably judged me as I had judged them, so only time would tell whom made the right parental choices. We strive towards grooming our kids into happy, smart, successful, good people, but even our best intentions could produce a variable of unforeseen effects.

I left this playgroup after a few weeks and tried another one—it was just as chaotic and dysfunctional as the first. My biggest critiques with the accompanied programs are their continuous open enrollment and the mandatory presence of a guardian, which in combination hindered the development of soft skills they claim to foster. Luckily a spot opened up for the Dumpling at a drop-off class soon after. (Hallelujah!) In the end, she did not benefit much from attending accompanied playgroups, but at least I learned something about my parenting values.

Indoor Play & Activities: Recap of September 2018

September has brought about a stretch of dry weather in Hong Kong, so the Dumpling and I have been spending most of our afternoons outdoor. For the days that we stayed in, our activities have centered around reviewing the Chinese words that she’s been learning at school, celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, and discussing the aftermath of the typhoon that hit our city midway through the month.

Learning Chinese 

Ever since the Dumpling started kindergarten, I wanted to increase her exposure to Mandarin at home to reinforce what she’s learning at school. I tried reading Chinese children’s stories with her, but the words sounded so foreign that she exasperatingly asked, “Mommy, what are you saying?!” When I switched the language of her Netflix shows from English to Chinese, it solicited such a visceral reaction that I quickly reverted everything to its original state.

Eventually I backed off…until one day, out of nowhere, she muttered her first Mandarin words at home. At first it was counting to five, then to ten, and now a few words and broken phrases. She was so proud of herself at times that she wouldn’t shut up! I quickly capitalized on her newfound interest by creating several puzzles to further engage her through play.

Chinese and Arabic Number Puzzle Match

Click here to download.

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I created this puzzle to help the Dumpling recognize Chinese numbers and associate them with their Arabic counterparts.

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Directions: Glue each printout to a piece of cardboard. Carefully cut out the puzzle pieces with an X-Acto knife. Finally (and optionally) cut a semi-circle at the bottom of each piece so that it’s easier to pull off from the puzzle board.

Self-Correcting Chinese Vocabulary Puzzle

(Sorry, folks—because I used stock illustrations* to make this puzzle, I do not have the license to re-distribute this as a printable.)

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The Chinese characters used in the puzzle correlate with the vocabulary words the Dumpling is learning at school. I don’t expect her to read yet, so I just sound out each character as we match the pieces.

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* Some illustrations used in this puzzle were stock illustrations downloaded from Feepik.

Chinese Color Match Memory Game

Click here to download.

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To play, lay the pieces with their backsides facing up. Flip over two pieces on each turn with the goal of finding two matching colors in as few moves as possible. Again, I don’t expect the Dumpling to read just yet; I just say the colors aloud as we play. We initially started playing with only two colors and have currently built up to six.

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Directions: Make two copies of the printable, glue the sheets onto pieces of cardboard, and cut out each color circle.

Celebrating Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

The Dumpling and I experimented with different methods of making lanterns throughout September. Details can be found here.

My Post (9)

Dealing with the Aftermath of Typhoon Mangkhut

Typhoon Mangkut was supposedly the fiercest storm to hit Hong Kong in the last 30 years. For a few hours, our windows and door shook violently and rainwater leaked in non-stop.

The next morning, the Dumpling and I ventured outside to assess the damages. There were lots of downed trees and foliage as expected, but to our surprise there were also shattered seashells outside our flat! We live less than a quarter of a mile away from the beach, but we are also situated on a hill approximately 80 feet above sea level so these seashells were a long way from home. The Dumpling and I managed to find several intact ones which we brought home and painted.

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Our souvenirs from the typhoon.

Leaning Out: The Transition From Working Mom to Stay-At-Home Mom

“I’m retiring!”

That was what I told everyone back in New York when they asked me what I would be doing after relocating to Hong Kong. There would be no more waking up at 6:00 AM, three hour commutes, ten hour workdays, or chore-filled weekends. Most importantly, no more feeling guilty about spending more time in the office than I did with my own daughter. I had grand visions of us watching the sunrise from our oceanfront flat, brunching by the beach, and making Pinterest-worthy artwork together.

Watching the sunrise from our flat…check!

Like many trailing spouses that arrive in this city, I opted not to work so that jigg can focus on his job while I settle our family down. I never intended to become a stay-at-home mom: my goal was to spend more time with the Dumpling, not all of my time. It turned out that way, however, because there are no daycares in Hong Kong…something I didn’t know until I arrived. Anyone who has cared for young children would know that my plans for a perpetual vacation went out the window the moment I found that out.

This full-time mom gig is turning out to be the crappiest, and as cliche as it sounds, also the most rewarding job I ever had. On one hand, the Dumpling dictates when I wake up (which is now 6:30 AM instead of 6:00 AM), what we watch on TV, and basically what we do on most days. I often found myself counting down the minutes to her nap and bed times when she behaves like…well, like a two year old. Like the time she found a piece of dog poop in the sandbox. Or the time she insisted on taking the stairs up the hill to our apartment, changed her mind midway, and made me carry her the rest of the way. Or the time she made me look like a kidnapper because I had to drag her home from the playground.

The Dumpling is turning into a beach bum!

Then there were sweet moments—moments that I would have missed if I weren’t home, scattered in between that made me forget all the physical, emotional, and mental abuse that she put me through. During the last three months, I got to eavesdrop on her nonsensical conversations with herself, listen to her off-key rendition of “ABCs” on repeat, and do countless potty dances with her. It’s simultaneously annoying and heartwarming that she wants to play with me all the time (except when jigg is home, then I’m just chopped liver). I know these days won’t last; sooner or later, it would be me who wants to spend more time with her.

While I fulfilled one aspect of my life that was missing, it created a void in another. Walking away from my career felt like I threw away everything I have worked for in the last 32 years. In a time where “leaning in” is celebrated as the modern woman’s goal, “leaning out” seemed to be the antithesis of what I was taught. What was the point of my mother’s sacrifices so I can concentrate on school? Of me working so hard? Of my family, friends, and mentors investing so much time and effort in me?

For the first time since I was 14 years old, I no longer brought home a paycheck, which had served as a self-esteem booster and a measurement of success. It was also a social equalizer in our household because when I worked roughly as many hours and brought home just as much as my husband, it was hard for anyone to impose gender-based responsibilities on me (not that jigg ever did). I used to tell people what I did for a living with pride; now I’m just unemployed.

I miss working…not the hours, stress, or commute, but the opportunity to interact with smart people, be challenged, and thrive. There are ideas buzzing in my head that I wish I had more than just the Dumpling’s nap time to work on. For someone like me, I realized that I can never truly lean out. Currently, I’m trying to find fulfillment as an aspiring mommy blogger by combining motherhood, crafting, and skills from my former life.

My new boss (the Dumpling) is a hard-to-please dictator, my hours are longer, and I’m pretty much a one-woman team…so much for retirement!

My Toddler Tells Me a Bedtime Story

The Dumpling’s imagination has been developing rapidly in the past month. Instead of only seeing objects as they are, she can now envision them as something else in her make-believe play. For example, she played with an iPhone box as if it was a car, saw a train in the shadow casted by our curtains, and re-enacted a scene from the Minions movie with a dinosaur cookie cutter and play dough.

Imagination is an important skill for a child to acquire because the ability to think creatively and differently builds a world of infinite possibilities—there’s always a new idea, invention, or method waiting to be dreamed up. While I don’t think there’s a surefire method to teach imagination like the way shapes, colors, letters, and numbers are taught, creativity is like a muscle—the more it’s used, the more it develops. Therefore, the best I can do as a parent is to look for opportunities for the Dumpling to exercise it as much as possible.

I have shared in my past entries that reading with the Dumpling has been an ongoing challenge in our household. Instead of forcing her to do something she didn’t want to, I actually packed her books away (quite literally since we were moving) and stopped bedtime stories for a few months. I recently reintroduced them back into our nightly routine…with a new twist. Instead of me doing the reading, I asked the Dumpling to tell me a story instead. She obviously cannot read yet, so I helped her string together a simple narrative by digging deep into our imagination.

We first created the characters using illustrations from “Goodnight Little Remy,” a personalized book that depicts various animals wishing the Dumpling a good night. The actual story, as the author intended, was entirely irrelevant; we just needed the visuals as a starting point. I facilitated by asking the Dumpling a series of questions about what her characters did or intend to do, how they feel, and what their relations are with each other…essentially anything that is not shown in the artwork.

The questions were all relatable to the Dumpling’s everyday life and her responses often reflected that. If she couldn’t answer (which was often the case at the beginning), I presented her with a list of choices to pick from until she nodded her head in agreement. Below are sample questions based on a spread featuring owls in the book.

  • “What is the owl’s name? Is it Bob? Kevin? Stuart?”
  • “Does the owl have a Mommy? Daddy? Brother? Sister? Friends?”
  • “Are the owls and birds neighbors? Are they friends?”
  • “How are the owls feeling? Are they happy? Sad? Hungry? Angry?”
  • “What did they have for breakfast? Banana? Apple? Kiwi?”
  • “Did the owls ride the train or go to the playground?”

Once we gathered enough details, I pieced together a story based on the Dumpling’s answers. After repeating this activity for a week (with multiple rounds of revision on her end), she was even able to tell me bits and pieces of her own story!

As I mentioned previously, the real story was not important. I never corrected the Dumpling by reading what’s printed on the text. My goal was to nurture her imagination, therefore, it didn’t matter if her tale defied the rules of physics, space, and time. I’m pretty sure there will be many people in her lifetime that would tell her that her ideas are impossible—I’ll try not to be one of them.

Goodnight Little Remy
Retold by the Dumpling (with help from mommy)

There was a sleeping bird who flew across the night sky, over an empty house where an old grandpa once lived. The sleeping bird watched fireworks and visited a bird family. There was a Daddy Bird (because he’s big), Mommy Bird (also because she’s big), Brother Bird, Sister Bird, and Baby Bird. There was also a Friend Bird who will grow up to be a dinosaur. RAWR! The Friend Bird was very popular because he had multiple girlfriend birds.

The Baby Bird lived in a nest with two other eggs, but the eggs would become the Dumpling’s snack when she gets hungry. Nom! Nom! Nom!

All of the birds like going to the playground and down the slide with their friends and neighbors, the owls! The owl family has a Daddy Owl, Mommy Owl, Brother Owl, Sister Owl, and Baby Owl. The owls were not happy because they didn’t love each other.

The end.

The Dumpling’s First School Interview

“Thank you for your enrollment application for our Kindergarten. We would like to invite you and Remy to school to meet with one of our teachers. It will be a good opportunity for parents to have a further understanding of the school and a chance for us to get to know your child.”

The Dumpling got invited for a school interview, but my initial excitement upon receiving this email was quickly replaced by bewilderment—mostly wondering what on earth would they ask a two year old?!

Friends and family have warned me before my relocation to Hong Kong that its education system is extremely competitive, but I shrugged it off. While enrolling her into a decent school is a priority, enrolling her into the best school isn’t. It was never my intention to leave the education, discipline, and upbringing of my child solely in the hands of teachers; being a supportive and involved parent is just as important. This may also be an unpopular opinion in Hong Kong, but I don’t believe that academics is the golden ticket to success…good grades can only get you so far in life.

The primary reason why I want to get her in ASAP is so she can develop social skills with other kids, a lesson that I will never be able to provide.

(And so I can catch a break everyday.)

I received the invitation last Thursday. The meeting was scheduled for this past Monday. Prepping the Dumpling did cross my mind, but I decided against it. I didn’t even bother Googling what these interviews are like… it’s not like we can cram or pull all-nighters together. If there was something she couldn’t learn in the last 26 months of her life, I doubt four days would be a game changer.

On the morning of the big day, I dressed her in a cute pink floral outfit, gave her a cookie (as a bribe to be a good girl), and off we went.

Upon arrival, the school receptionist asked what the Dumpling’s primary language is. When I replied that she understands both Cantonese and English, a Cantonese teacher greeted us and started conversing with my daughter.

We had a lackluster start because the Dumpling wasn’t very responsive. When she did speak, it was in English. The teacher then suggested meeting with the English teacher instead. At that moment, I realized how important answering the language preference question was on the application. Maybe it was because I was there instead of jigg since the Dumpling prefers to speak English with me and Cantonese with her dad.

The English teacher then brought us to an office, a type of room where I imagined a kid would go to when he/she gets in trouble. She had a box of materials such as color pencils, books, toys, stickers, paper, etc. The set up looked serious.

Object Recognition

The teacher first took out an ABCs book and asked the Dumpling to name the fruits, objects, and animals on each page. The Dumpling flew through each one since the pictures were typical ones found in most children’s books.

Color Recognition

Next the teacher gave the Dumpling a piece of paper, took out a set of color pencils, and handed them to the Dumpling one by one. As the Dumpling scribbled, the teacher asked her to name the colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, pink, brown, purple, and black.

We had one hiccup; there wasn’t a white pencil so the teacher pointed to the paper and asked what the color of the paper is. The Dumpling misinterpreted and started doodling on the spot that the teacher pointed to. After two more attempts, the teacher moved on. I understood why the Dumpling was confused, but held my tongue since I didn’t want to come off as a helicopter mom.

Number Recognition

For the following exercise, the teacher shuffled a set of flashcards with 1 through 10 and asked the Dumpling to read the numbers. She breezed through them since we just finished number recognition recently.

Shape Recognition

Flashcards of various shapes were presented for identification. The Dumpling got every one: triangle, rectangle, circle, square, diamond, star, heart, and hexagon. Yes, there was a hexagon in the deck. I was patting myself in the back for that one because jigg thought it was a useless shape to teach a toddler. HA, proved him wrong!

Counting

The teacher then took out a basket of chips and asked the Dumpling to count with her. I immediately knew my daughter wouldn’t be able to do this yet; but I nonetheless let the teacher lead. After a few attempts, I stepped in and explained that we were still working on this concept.

Miscellaneous Questions

Various one-off questions were also scattered throughout the interview, such as:

  • Is the elephant big or small?
  • What is your favorite color?
  • How old are you?

In the end, I asked the teacher how the interview will be evaluated. She replied that it’s not really what the child knows but how he/she communicates and interacts. Her answer sounded suspiciously incomplete but I didn’t press. If the assessment were purely subjective, what was the point of all those tests?!! Regardless of the results, I was so proud of my daughter and gave her three cookies on our way home.

I already knew ahead of time that the kindergarten was completely full. The interview was just something to cross off the application process in the event that a spot opened up. In the meantime, I intend to join a parent-accompanied play group that meets three days a week. I really do miss the U.S. where I can just drop the Dumpling off at daycare for 10 hours everyday. If one can be found here, please take my money!

(I finally did Google what the nursery school application process is like in Hong Kong…this shit is insane!)

Paradoxical Expectations of the Working Mom

Working moms today are often harshly criticized because we are held to almost impossible standards—we are expected to work like we don’t have kids; and we are expected to raise children like we don’t work. Even when fathers are assuming more child rearing and household responsibilities, they are praised as doing extra while mothers are seen as only doing par. The home is still seen as our primary domain, and it’s up to us to figure out how to level the playing field if we want to be with the big boys in the corporate world.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Like many female colleagues of my generation, I was encouraged to “have it all” and look up to women who seemingly found a way to balance work and motherhood. I found myself struggling to sustain my career momentum, however, once the Dumpling come into the picture. In a fast-paced city like New York, where nine hour days are the minimum and anything above is normal, the grind can be especially gruesome. Compared to my colleagues who come in earlier, leave later, and participate in after-hour social events, I often feel like I’m not a team player because I dart out of the office at 5:30 pm.

While other moms are more understanding, there are a few who think every woman should make the same sacrifices they did. There’s the successful female executive with the “I-did-it-and-so-can-you” attitude who thinks the rest of us are just a bunch of complainers. Then there’s the stay-at-home mom who questioned my judgement in putting the Dumpling at daycare when she was only six months old.

Although progress is headed in the right direction, corporate America still isn’t too family friendly. Maternity leave is not mandatory and left to the discretion of the employer. Americans also clock in more hours per week (special shout out to New York!), have fewer holidays, and vacation days compared to most of our European counterparts. While taking holidays and long lunches are culturally acceptable in Europe, it carries a negative stigma in the U.S. The higher up the corporate ladder the we climb, the more we are expected to be accessible 24/7 and available to travel regularly.

Meeting the Demands of Modern Day Motherhood

Even if moms are willing to grind it out, childcare is a common challenge. The core U.S. household is typically made up of only the parents and their children. Therefore, extended family members, like grandparents, do not play major roles as caregivers on a daily basis, and most working parents are forced to seek outside help. Day cares often have long wait lists, are expensive, and penalizes heavily on late pick-ups. jigg and I pay $270 a week, and we are fortunate to have our in-laws do the evening pick ups and babysit for about an hour until I get home. Otherwise, the current local rate for a nanny runs anywhere between $15-$25 an hour. While live-in helpers are common in Asia for many middle-class families, they are entirely out of reach for most in the U.S. For example, a cost of a live-in helper in Hong Kong, who helps with not only childcare, but also cooking, cleaning, errands, and general household chores six days a week costs approximately $4,010 HKD per month, or $514 USD. That’s about a week’s pay for a nanny in the U.S.

Modern parents also need to be very involved. Child experts recommend a barrage of activities that parents should do with their toddlers to develop their sensory, gross motor, fine motor, social, and communication skills. Once school starts, parents are expected to review homework assignments, attend parent-teacher conferences, volunteer for funds raises, etc. Most of these responsibilities inevitably fall onto the mother.

Society in general has expectations (often hidden in a form of unsolicited advice) of how our children ought to behave by cherry picking from the best practices across different cultures. My elders brag about how they managed to put dinner on the table every night, do chores by hand, and raised kids without the fancy gadgets. I’m told to admire the French, who cook sophisticated meals for their children and are firm in their discipline. Compared to Americans, we have raised a kiddy population of obese, picky eating dictators. My Chinese relatives bring up how so and so enrolled their children in swimming, piano, and Mandarin classes and advised I should look into them as well before my daughter falls behind.

Time Scarcity

Capture

It’s no wonder that I always feel like there’s not enough time; I’m working two full time jobs on a daily basis. In the span of 24 hours, “work” and “commute” take up approximately 12 hours of my day; there’s not much I can do to easily change these unless I quit my job or move closer to the city. “Sleep” takes up eight hours (Do I really need eight hours? Yes, I do), which leaves me with the remaining four to do everything else under “other”.

“Other” is a category that includes getting the Dumpling ready for daycare in the morning, then feeding, cleaning, playing and putting her to bed at night. Somewhere in between, I also have to eat, tidy up the house, and make time for jigg and me. I’m scratching my head trying to find time to do everything else I’m supposed to be doing as a “good mother.” If I attend that happy hour, I would miss tucking my daughter in bed. If I cooked in the evenings, being in front of the stove would take away from time spent reading to her. If I enrolled her in weekend classes, she would be spending even more time with outside caregivers than her parents.

Learning from my elders and parents in other cultures should serve as an inspiration. But when their best practices are used as baseline comparisons of how I ought to parent, it’s easy to become disheartened. I remind myself that while they face challenges that I cannot relate to, I have career aspirations and societal expectations that my mom didn’t have, or work hours and childcare costs that my mommy friends from other countries don’t face. As a result, I pick and choose my parenting battles and accept that I do some things better and fall short on others.

Kid’s Birthday Parties Are Stupid But I Keep Throwing Them!

The Dumpling is turning two years old in less than a month, and I’m currently in a full party planning frenzy. My dining room table is taken over by scraps of paper, half assembled favor bags, and experimental decorations that are at the edge of becoming either Pinterest wins or fails.

I often question why I invest so much effort into something that the Dumpling won’t remember. Before becoming a mom, I thought that kid’s birthday parties are stupid. Now that I have a little one, I still think they are. jigg is personally against the social extravagance and wants nothing to do with them. As a result, leaving me alone and babysitting the Dumpling are his forms of support.

A Look Back at the Dumpling’s First Birthday

Planning the Dumpling’s first birthday was my first DIY project after an almost two year hiatus. It was also a personal test to see if I still have any creative juice left after exhausting all my energy into motherhood. I always thought having children was another milestone to a fulfilling and meaningful life, but motherhood ended up feeling more like a chore. Since giving birth, my days revolved around nursing, pumping, changing diapers, and working. In a depressing reality that I didn’t want to admit, I felt tied down because of the things I gave up to make room for my daughter. I never thought of myself as an “I can’t” person, but I became one.

“I can’t go to happy hour because I have to go home to take care of my daughter.”

“I can’t meet you for dinner because the Dumpling’s bedtime is 7pm.”

“I can’t go shopping because I have to pump/nurse every three hours.”

“I can’t meet you in the city because I can’t carry the baby, the stroller, and the diaper bag on the train.”

“I can’t leave the baby at home because I want to spend more time with her.”

“I can’t take on this project because I don’t have time.”

“I can’t [insert activity] because I’m so tired.”

Even as I revisit my reasons now, I still believe they were legitimate and can sympathize with my past self. However, I knew that if I didn’t drag myself out of this mentality, I would eventually lose myself.

My road to self re-discovery started with crafting because it didn’t violate my “I can’t” reasons; I had no excuses. Honestly it could have been anything – cooking, baking, photography, writing, piano, etc. I used the Dumpling’s birthday party as my objective and immersed myself into making it happen. Again, it could have been any occasion; it just happened that the Dumpling’s birthday was around the corner when I had the epiphany. I took every opportunity during the Dumpling’s nap times on weekends to create banners, tassels, favor boxes, and other party decorations. I could have easily bought everything on Amazon or Etsy, but I was insistent on making my own. In the end, I managed to pull together a not-so-scary Halloween-ish themed orange and black celebration.

The truth was that the party was as much for me as it was for the Dumpling. It boosted my confidence and helped me rediscover the things I loved before my daughter overtook my life.

It turned out that I can!

As I undertook new arts and crafts projects, I began merging my hobbies with spending time with my daughter so that I was able to derive fulfillment simultaneously in both. I sculpted with play dough, built a cardboard theater, penned a silly poem, made a board book, turned my daughter’s finger painting into a coffee table book, and started writing again. One project led to another, and I’m now an aspiring mommy blogger who sees the Dumpling as my muse.

As unnecessary and extravagant as I still think kid’s birthday parties are, I will continue throwing them as yearly celebrations of everything my daughter and I have achieved together. I also look forward to the day when the Dumpling is old enough plan and bring her own parties to life. The task my seem daunting for a little girl, but I will be able to teach her that she also can!

My Kid Is A Terrible Dresser

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When the Dumpling picked her own clothes.

Several days ago the Dumpling insisted on wearing this monstrosity of an outfit: a red San Francisco 49ers jersey paired with patterned green pants. She ran around the room with only her diaper on, dramatically screaming “No! Nooo! Nooooooo!” to every alternative except for what she picked out.

Before becoming a mom, I always wondered why parents would let their kids out of the house in cringe-worthy ensembles—jarring color combinations, socks with sandals, dresses over pants, epileptic inducing LED-lit apparels…just to name a few examples.

Like many things, I sing a different tune now that I have a small toddler with a big personality.

Whatever fashion aspirations I had for the Dumpling were short lived. At its height, I dreamed of her living up the kiddy fashion hashtags on Instagram where she would wear trendy miniature versions of adult clothes, or we would twin with mommy-and-me dresses. The reality, however, is that children’s apparel is expensive for the number of wears that she would get out of them. It also didn’t help that the Dumpling hates getting dressed, so my bare standard these days is just to get her to wear pants. At 22 months, my daughter already has strong stylistic preferences that she is vocal about. This often translates to her picking out clothes that have clashing combinations or are out of season (she wore Christmas pants all year round).

The Dumpling may refine her taste as she grows, but in the meantime I implemented a strategy to combat her fashion faux pas. I would have a few pre-selected backup pieces for her to choose from in case she rejects my initial offering. This would give her the opportunity to make decisions under a controlled setting. Sometimes she would go with my first choice with minimal resistance; often it’d be a compromise where I picked the top and she picked the bottom; on occasions she would reject both and put something together entirely on her own.

When I picked the outfit.

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When she dressed for both Christmas and Easter at the same time.

Looking back at her old pictures, I realized that the Dumpling rocked whatever she wore. Her big smile and personality outshone even the most mismatched outfits.

If she asks about her choice of clothing in the future, I will just say that she was an accidental hipster.